21-Jul-20 | News

How are employers supporting disabled staff during coronavirus?

animated picyure few people standing and one on a wheelchair

Over the last few months, Covid-19 has turned our world on its head. We are living and working in a way that few, if any, could have imagined just weeks ago. Businesses across all sectors have had to adapt how they operate overnight. Some will survive. Some will thrive. But what does this all mean for the disabled people they employ?

Workplace adjustments

Workplace adjustments are critical for so many disabled people – and with homes now the new workplace there are some logistical challenges. Our survey revealed issues around provision and portability, set up of equipment, and ensuring effectiveness – and availability – of adjustments as well as the challenges of having accurate data on who has a disability and reaching out to them to provide support.

At a practical level, the focus has been on:

  • Reviewing routine working hours to enable effective working from home (67 per cent)
  • Supporting colleagues with assistive technology (64 per cent)
  • Helping colleagues install video conferencing applications (61 per cent)
  • Working out which adjustments, such as assistive technology, specialist chairs or other equipment, could be transported to employees’ homes (60 per cent)

Of course, in the current climate, we are all working with adjustments to a greater or lesser extent and surely one positive legacy of the pandemic will be a much deeper acceptance and appreciation of the role of home and flexible working and the use of assistive technology in the workplace. Our respondents were positive about the potential for long-lasting benefits:

  • 90 per cent agreed responses to Covid-19 will result in a lasting change in attitudes to flexible and home working
  • 63 per cent recognised the increased demand in adjustments for all staff to enable them to work in a new way

Businesses are doing the groundwork already – in our survey, 61 per cent said they were ensuring managers were briefed about how to effectively manage staff remotely. Hopefully, this will go some way to debunking some of the attitudes around the need to (always) be in the office and enable a more mixed economy for the future – which could benefit us all.

Of course, cultural change needs to come from the top. And, while responses to our survey reveal a cross-organisation effort to support disabled colleagues, decisions are generally being made at the most senior, strategic level. The majority (83 per cent) said how the business has responded to Covid-19 generally – including arranging internal communications, home working, and ensuring staff have the adjustments they need – was being led by the chief operating officer or chief executive.

While the figure for responsibility for ensuring staff with disabilities and long-term conditions specifically can move to home working was much lower – 31 per cent said this was the direct responsibility of the COO or CEO compared to 69 per cent for HR – this is still encouraging. We see time and time again that CEOs or senior leaders who have a personal knowledge of and interest in disability issues – perhaps because of their own experience or that of a close family member – are champions of driving change. Giving senior leaders direct visibility of the issues facing their disabled employees should have a lasting and positive impact.

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